Graduation Student Speaker: Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett was one of the student speakers at the Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration for fall semester. Here are the remarks he shared.

So much commitment, dedication, and effort is represented here today. It reminds me of a Winston Churchill quote my grandfather always retells in his own words, “Where there’s a will…I want to be in it.”

The Penn State World Campus graduates all have one thing in common, other than graduating tomorrow. We all applied. Don’t you wish you could just press a single button to complete your entire application? Then the system would say, “Of Course,” or “Better Luck Next Year.”

Before I get started, I want to share two words with you that still might scare you, but by now, hopefully they will just make you laugh: “Group Project.”

I would like to share with you a tale of two stories. Two possible timelines, if you will. It’s a story of how a B student got a master’s degree in a year and a half while running a real estate brokerage, moving, having a house built, leading a leadership mastermind on Monday mornings, a support group on Monday nights and a Bible study on Wednesday nights, all while getting straight A’s for the first time since second grade. Yes, second grade; my grades went downhill after second grade.

For 10 years, I had been looking for master’s programs either locally or online. It was not until I found the masters in psychology of leadership at Penn State, that every course looked interesting to me. I started the application, collected my transcripts, recommendations, and everything else but then I stopped at the essay. I dreaded it and continued to put it off. I started having self-doubt, telling myself that I would not be accepted. “What’s the point in writing the essay if I probably won’t get accepted?” One day my wife asked me if I had sent in my application. She told me that she was behind me 100% and encouraged me to go for it.

Fast forward to a few months after I had registered for three classes in the summer, not knowing how much work that would really entail. After a few weeks, I found myself at 1:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, (papers are usually due first thing Monday morning), thinking to myself, “Why in the world am I doing this to myself?” I can just drop these classes and pretend this never happened. Then I remembered my wife’s encouragement, a friend’s encouragement who also told me to go for it, and the feeling of accomplishment in receiving my bachelor’s degree 13 years earlier. This gave me the courage to work through that night and not drop those classes. That first summer of taking three courses really made the fall semester seem easier.

Since last summer, I have been living with a Thursday deadline and a Sunday deadline. I am sure you know the feeling. I barely knew what asynchronous meant until this program. In the mornings, I would listen to some of our readings through my headphones. In between appointments, I would stop at Starbucks to fit in reading and writing assignments. I have made many friends while studying, many of whom are pursuing their own degrees at different colleges. I have made friends through those infamous Group Projects. While they can be tough, they teach valuable leadership lessons like no other. I must mention the instructors who have been especially encouraging through their feedback when grading. Never have I been so encouraged while being critiqued on a paper. In the past, I would walk away from a poor grade discouraged, figuring out the minimal effort required for the next assignment. This time around, I would think about how I could do better on the next assignment. I thank the professors for that. Being both firm and positive is not easy to do.

The second story, starts with the application, but without the encouragement from my wife, Eme, it ends with never getting around to completing the application. Or it continues, but ends at 1:00 a.m. that Sunday night when I reflect and don’t have the encouragement to draw on, and I drop all three courses, pretending like it never happened. In this second story, I am not standing before you today.

Many of you have similar stories of people encouraging you saying, go for it.

Brent Casiglio shared his story with me. He travels internationally for work and as a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt. He has been getting his schoolwork done on airplanes, in hotels, and while locking himself into his home office. His wife and family have encouraged him to push forward when he has gotten frustrated. He shared with me that he has gotten grumpy along the way and his family has been there for him, understanding and encouraging him. I have felt this grumpiness too. It can be very tough balancing everything. If I could have a slide show tonight, I would click to a picture of grumpy cat here because that’s how I’ve felt many times along the way.

I also have to mention Sean Case’s story. When this semester started, he discovered that he would have to have open-heart surgery. Dr. Watters gave him the option to delay his last course until next year, but she also told him that she believed that he could do it, encouraging him to go for it. He has been pressing forward these past three years on his own, but this last semester, it was Dr. Watters, along with friends and family who have encouraged him. He was in the hospital a few weeks ago but actually finished early and is joining us here today, along with his two kids who are freshman at Penn State. Sean is finishing with straight A’s.

We are all thankful for those of you who have encouraged us to go for it. You might be here today considering your own goal that you want to pursue, but the doubt has crept in and this goal is starting to fade. I stand here with my fellow graduates and want to encourage you today. Go For It!